I don’t talk too much about the time when I was submitting query letters, synopsis and sample chapters to agents. I don’t tend to look backwards. I’m not going in that direction. What I do is I keep my eyes focused ahead of me. That’s not to say I don’t learn from my past mistakes. I do. Then, I move forward with that knowledge and experience. I also weigh every decision very carefully. I weigh the pros and cons, and I make the best decision according to all the available information. Making the decision to query was no different. I weighed the pros and cons of self-pub against trad pub and decided the risk was worth it. If I got into trad pub, I would have the experience of agents, editors and publishers behind me, and I would be able to learn from them. I figured it was worth the few months to a year to give it a shot. I send my first query letter on 12/11/2016. I sent my last query letter on 1/29/2018.
How Did I Start?
I said I submitted my first query letter on 12/11/2016, but I spent several weeks prior to that researching agents. I created a massive list. At first, it was just links stored in a bookmark folder. As I submitted to each agent, I put them in a spreadsheet. Later, I put the agents in the spreadsheet first and just moved down the list. I read everything there was to read on every agent. I made sure they took my genre. I made sure they didn’t exclude my theme and premise. I made sure there were no red flags in the agent profile. A few I paid particular attention to were where they got their clients published. If they were mostly agent-only publishers, I put them on the list. If they were mostly places I could submit to myself, I removed them from the list. I looked for phrases that indicated the agent may be burned out. I looked for crazy shit – Like don’t capitalize anything. Yes, I saw that in an agent profile. The agent wanted you to remove all the capitalization before submitting, including at the front of sentences! Once I had my list, I started submitting.
Why Did I Make That List?
I made the list because I had a strong suspicion that this was going to be a long, tedious process, and the odds that I would burn out before finding an agent were extremely high. I knew it would be a very discouraging process. It could potentially be a very long process, and if I had my list, I knew I would finish that list. I finish about 95% of everything I start, so if I had the list, there was a high probability that I wouldn’t stop until the list was done.
My Submission Process
I used Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript to create my query letters, synopsis, outlines and other submission materials. I used a combination of The First Five Pages and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers to edit and finalize the manuscript. I started out with one of each query letter and long and short synopsis. By the end of it, I had 15 different query letters, four or five different synopsis and no outlines. I just wasn’t going to do it. Those outlines are tedious. I skipped any agent that wanted a chapter outline.
As I did my submissions, I re-researched the agents. I wanted to make sure that what I read initially was what was still on the page, and I wanted to make sure I hadn’t misread anything. I didn’t want to send anything to an agent that wouldn’t like or didn’t have publishing contacts in the areas where my fiction fit. I wanted to eliminate any potential wasted time and effort. I only wanted to send to agents that were extremely good fits for my work.
I did anywhere from 5 to 15 submissions a night, every night. There were very few nights that I skipped due to having other obligations, but I wanted to be as efficient as possible. I do not like wasted time, and the sooner I got these submissions out, the sooner I'd hear back and we could get rolling on the real process of publishing my book.
When I got to agent 38, he asked for the full manuscript. Fantastic! So, I sent it. By this time, I also had quite a few rejection letters. This didn’t bother me. I had plenty more agents on the list, and I knew this was a very subjective process. Agent 38 got back to me after many months with a – Not for me thanks. No feedback. Nothing. Just that single sentence. Okay, that's not how that's supposed to work. He's supposed to offer feedback and yada yada, but fine. Moving on. Obviously, that guy was lazy. Probably not a good fit anyway. I'm a very goal-driven, self-motivated person. I don't have time for non-workers and lazy-asses.
The Water Heater
During that time period, however, my water heater broke. I was taking ice-cold showers, and waiting on this agent to get back to me after reading that manuscript. We really needed to get moving on this. Come on agent! Come on! Come on! Come on! We gotta get this process going! I need a new water heater! Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Hurry. Hurry! Hurry!!!!!! And keep in mind that I knew that once this guy accepted the manuscript and sent me the contract that I was still looking at months and months and months of cold showers, but as long as this was moving forward, I would be okay. But he really needed to hurry. I don't handle cold very well.
I had a catastrophic nervous breakdown about 2 weeks after the water heater broke. Every shower was extremely painful. My whole body hurt. I ended up heating water all day, every day for my 1 evening bath. It was hell. I was in so much pain that I requested a credit increase. They gave me $100. I ordered a pizza, and that was the final straw. I spent two weeks recovering at my mom’s while my entire family scrounged $500 so I could get a new water heater.
Once the water heater was fixed and I got back home, I resumed the submission process. By agent 78, I was getting a little nervous. Something was wrong here. So, I took another objective look at the manuscript. The first 30 pages were chapters 1 and 2. I needed to get to chapter 3, so I edited and broke apart chapters and recapped them on both ends. I ended up increasing the word count from 77k to 85k. Well, crap. Okay, so everyone before agent 79 gets the old manuscript, and everyone 79 and higher gets the new manuscript. I don’t care which one they take. Even I know they are simply buying a concept, and the editor at the publishing house will want it 50 to 75% rewritten. That’s going to make me feel like a sellout, but whatever gets me there.
I also wrote new query letters and reformatted the synopsis. Then, I submitted more faster. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Timeout. Timeout. Timeout. Timeout with no response.
You gotta be kidding me? Are any of these guys working? Are they reading anything? Are they so overwhelmed that they clicked the checkbox at the top of their email list and hit delete all? What’s going on here? This can’t possibly be normal. I’ve read every publishing story there is. I’ve never read anything like what I am experiencing. I’m past Stephen King’s rejections. I’m past J.K. Rowling’s rejections. I’m past that author that got 137 rejections. Just what in the living hell is going on here?
In April, the roof started leaking by the fireplace. I paid a guy $40 plus the cost of roofing tar to tar it. I started getting roofing quotes. The cost was anywhere from $8,500 to $10,000. OMG. Okay. Well, shit. I can’t afford that. We’re going to hope that tar holds for a minute. I got 6 to 8 months before that tar washes away. Let’s hope something pans out.
In August the brake lines on the car went out. I’m still getting rejections. I’m still crossing off agents due to timeouts. It’s $350 to fix the brake lines. That’s okay, but it’s another $300 to have the car towed. uh. It’s gotta wait. I can’t do it. I just gotta keep going. This is going to work out. Let me rewrite these query letters again. I need to redouble my efforts for these last few agents. THIS. WILL. WORK. OUT! No one is more determined than me. Surely they can see that. I will make it. I absolutely, positively will make this work. There is no other option but success.
Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection.
OMFG. You’ve gotta be kidding me. This is ridiculous. I’m at something like agent 350. This is unreal. Are they working? Are they taking this seriously? Am I the only one taking this seriously? If I didn’t take my job seriously, I’d be homeless. You can’t run a business like this. You can’t decline all your potential clients. The rent doesn't get paid like this.
Yep, my business side started taking over. I’m a freelancer, and I’m thinking about business and profitability and income and expenses. This is not viable. You can’t run a business like this and expect to stay in business. In fact, I think I know why most agents don’t remain in business. I’m getting a very clear understanding of why the available agents change so dramatically. I’m starting to question the business model. I wonder if any of these guys have a business plan? Most of these websites also appear to be outdated, and that's bad news for people submitting to them. They're tastes may have changed, and there's no way to know.
I’m also getting increasingly concerned. I see a lot of agents asking for statistics. They want to know the author’s book marketing plan. They want to know the stats for the genre, sales, readers, market. How do they not know this? These should be numbers that they have memorized. The book market consists of 70% trad pub and 30% self-pub. Thriller is the largest book category by sales, dollar amount and advances. The average reader is female and between 35 and 45. Romance gives this all a good run for its money, and Erotica is also an amazingly large category with billions of dollars in sales every year. How do they not know this? What am I going to do if I get an agent that isn’t up-to-date on the industry? I don’t want to be the one teaching the potential agent! Yeah, I’m getting real concerned and a lot leery. These guys don't know their numbers, and I have them memorized!
And for the agents asking for a book marketing plan… OMG. What? Do they not know this? Do they not have any ideas? Am I going to be developing my own book marketing plan without any professional help? Because seriously, this is kinda why I chose this path. I wanted the expert experience, and I wanted to learn while avoiding a few of the common mistakes. I wanted the best chance for success, and I find myself poking lots and lots of holes in this. The more I dig, the less impressed I am. And I'm getting downright angry.
Finishing the List
On 1/29/2018, I finished my list. This was hard. By this time, I’ve objectively evaluated everything. I’m not getting anywhere, and I think I had that last agent on my list unsubmitted to for a week. I’m not convinced trad pub is the way to go. I’m really concerned about the business model. I’m concerned about the work ethic. I’m concerned about the timeliness, but I can’t leave anything undone. I did submit to that last agent. But at this time, I’m also doing the math.
It’s now been about a year and a half since I started this process. The average advance is $10,000. After the agent takes a cut and the author pays taxes, you walk away with about $5,000 to $6,000 dollars. The editing process can take another six months, and the publisher may not put the book on the publishing schedule for another 12 months, so I’m looking at another 18 months at a min. That’s 3 years. $6,000. That’s $166 a month roughly. Hmmmm. You know, I’m not impressed with that, and I’m also starting to hear horror stories about authors not liking the covers and finding typos and other things inside the books that are unsatisfactory, and the publisher is refusing to make changes. I’m also hearing horror stories about books being published and left to rot with no marketing money from the publisher. No marketing plan from the publisher.
I'm also a huge believer in Murphy's Law. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong, and I can very easily see all of this and more happening to me. Not to mention, if this submission process is any indication, this is not going to go well or smoothly. I have a feeling that this is going to be like climbing a cliff with no ropes or safety gear while being completely naked and trying to avoid cuts from the rocks. While I don't mind a good struggle, I need to realize that this has gotten extreme. I don't know that I have a big enough sledgehammer to break through this wall. Lord knows, I've already pulled out the 50 pounder. Thankfully, I knew there was another option. I didn't have to keep banging my head against this wall. I could take back control. I just needed to make the decision.
I can't deal with people who refuse to work! That's the bottom line. I'm putting out 150% effort, and I expect my team to at least give 100%. WIth what I've seen so far, these guys aren't giving 10 percent, and I've had enough. I'm furious. I'm tired of this lazy-loser shit. So, you know what? I need to get off my ass and stop waiting around for people to get off their asses.
That was when I decided to timeout and self-pub. Increasingly, I was hearing stories about not having control over the book. Not being able to make changes, unsatisfactory marketing. And I realized that if I have to do everything myself, I might as well take full control of my work and self-publish. And that’s exactly what I did. I let all those submissions timeout, and 24 hours after the last timeout, I self-published.
I do want to make it clear that at no point did I doubt myself or my writing ability. I never doubted the viability of my books. I know a lot of authors succumb to self-doubt the minute they start getting rejection letters. I never took those rejection letters personally. They made me mad. Every rejection felt like wasted effort and time, but I never really doubted myself. I know I can write. I know my stories are good, and if you are in the middle of this submission process, just remember that. You are a good writer. Your story is fine. It's the trad publish process that is broken. This is why self-publish is now a 26 billion-dollar-a-year industry. If you're ready to work, you can do it all yourself.